Cuba details brave new world of private enterprise

AP: HAVANA тА” Cuba’s communist leaders began laying out the details of their drive to create more free enterprise on the island on Friday, mapping out a brave new world of bosses and employees, personal accountants and a dizzying number of small-time businesses.

The plans тА” laid out in a three-page spread in the Communist Party-daily
Granma тА” follow last week’s announcement that the government will lay off
500,000 workers by the end of March, the biggest change in this country’s
economic system since the early 1990s.

For the first time, Cubans in 83 private activities will be allowed to employ
people other than their relatives. The Central Bank is even studying ways to get small loans into the hands of the country’s new entrepreneurs, according to the newspaper, which cited Economy Minister Marino Murillo Jorge and a vice-minister of labor and social security, Admi Valhuerdi Cepero.

Granma is the voice of the Communist Party and one of the principal ways the
government communicates plans with the people. The paper promised more details in coming days, saying that the expanded private enterprise would be “another opportunity, under the watchful eye of the state, which as a representative of the people, must find ways to improve the quality of life of Cubans.”

The new openings are sure to be welcome in a country where young people have been clamoring for more opportunities for years, but they will also create tension and upheaval.

The state dominates nearly every aspect of the Cuban economy, employing at least 84 percent of the work force and paying an average of $20 a month. In return, islanders are guaranteed free education and health care, as well as nearly free housing, transportation and basic food.

President Raul Castro has said the government can no longer afford such generous subsidies and that he wants to modernize Cuba’s economy, without abandoning socialism. Still the changes outlined over the past two weeks are sure to expand the breach between haves and have-nots in a land that has spent 50 years striving for an egalitarian utopia.

The article tries to allay any fears that the country is embracing free-market
capitalism, saying that the changes will always be “faithful to the socialist
principles our constitution demands.”

In all, some 178 private activities will be allowed and expanded, though only
seven of those are entirely new тА” including accountants, bathroom attendants, tutors and fruit vendors. One entire page of the newspaper was devoted to listing jobs that will qualify for self-employment. The list has everything from floral wreath arrangers to animal trainers to interior decorators.

The rules, which are set to go into effect next month, will also allow for a
great expansion of private restaurants тА” called paladares тА” which will be
able to serve more people and expand their menus to include higher-priced items like beef and lobster.

Previously, government rules limited them to 12 seats and placed restrictions on what their menus could offer, though most establishments blatantly violated the rules.

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